Tim Lincecum

Let us not freak out about free agent salaries, OK?


I feel like people freak out a little bit every fall and winter when the first couple of free agents sign. The dollars get announced and the reaction is some form of “wow, what an overpay!” and “if [Player X] gets that, [Player Y] is going to get insane dollars!” We’ve seen a little bit of that in the wake of last night’s Tim Lincecum signing, with people’s reactions ranging from merely raising an eyebrow to being fully gobsmacked.

I’m in more of the eyebrow-raised camp. It’s probably a bit of an overpay given Lincecum’s performance over the past couple of years (though it is a pay cut). It’s also a bit of a gamble inasmuch as, a decent strikeout rate notwithstanding, there is no guarantee that Lincecum will be a front line starter ever again. Or even an average one. We’re now more than two years past the last good Lincecum season and more than four years past the truly dominant Lincecum still stuck in our head. He could be Barry Zito redux in performance, if not in contract duration, for the rest of his career.

But we should probably limit our response to the dollars involved to raised eyebrows and wait a few months before truly committing to a reaction. Both to Lincecum’s deal and the deals of other free agents this winter. Because the changing financial structure of baseball is rendering the sorts of deals we once considered to be crazy fairly run-of-the-mill these days.

Yes, $35 million for two years is an awful lot of money. But you know what else is an awful lot of money? The $30-$40 million (estimated) each team will be getting each year from new national television deals with ESPN, Fox and TBS. That is, $30-$40 million for doing absolutely nothing. That’s before you add on increases in local deals many teams are experiencing and the overall trend of rising revenues across Major League Baseball. A trend that the San Francisco Giants and their nearly-full ballpark are taking pretty decent advantage of.

We’re not in the same financial world in which we found ourselves in 1992, 2004 or even just a couple of years ago. Teams have more money to spend and, thanks to restrictions on how much amateur talent can be paid, they have fewer places to spend it. It makes perfect sense, then, that the price of an average pitcher with some upside (or any number of other free agents who will soon sign) will be a lot higher than it used to be. As such, the dollars that used to only go to the best of the best will now be going to the middle of the pack. The superstar dollars will go way, way up too.

Despite this dynamic, I feel that fan and, in some cases, media reaction to these understandable increases is still stuck in 1992, 2004 or even just a couple of years ago. It sort of reminds me of my dad who, whenever gas prices go up, reacts as if it were still 1959 and, dadgummit, gas shouldn’t be more than twenty-five cents a gallon. As if the price of any commodity, be it gas, foodstuffs or elite baseball players shouldn’t be expected to rise in the face of scarcity and increased demand.

Anyway: it’s possible that the Lincecum deal will look bad in a few months or a year from now. It’s also possible that this deal is simply what a player of Lincecum’s caliber — adjusting for the short-length of the deal and his status as a fan favorite — can be expected to command. Whatever happens with him, though, we need to remember that player salaries are going up for rational reasons and that the definition of a massive deal in 2013-14 is not the same as it was even a few short years ago.

Cardinals take 1-0 NLDS lead over the Cubs behind John Lackey’s brilliant outing

John Lackey
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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John Lackey flirted with a no-hitter but settled for 7 1/3 terrific, shutout innings to beat the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. The right-hander held the opposition to two hits and a walk while striking out five. Lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist struck out two to finish the eighth without issue. Closer Trevor Rosenthal worked around a one-out walk and a two-out single in the ninth to seal the 4-0 win, recording all three outs on called strike threes.

Lackey brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but lost it quickly when Addison Russell hit a ground ball single up the middle to lead off the frame. Russell would steal second base but was stranded.

Opposing starter Jon Lester wasn’t too shabby himself, relenting three runs on five hits while walking one and striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings. The first run came around in the first inning on Matt Holliday‘s RBI single, which followed a one-out double by Stephen Piscotty. Tommy Pham pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot in the eighth inning and launched a solo home run off of Lester to double the Cardinals’ lead. Lester walked Matt Carpenter before exiting. Pedro Strop came in and promptly served up a two-run home run to Stephen Piscotty.

The closest the Cubs came to scoring was when Dexter Fowler sent a deep fly ball to right field with a man on base and two outs in the sixth inning, but Randal Grichuk caught it with a foot or two to spare in front of the fence on the warning track.

The two clubs will play Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday at 5:30 PM EDT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and oppose Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia.

Astros err in letting Scott Kazmir start sixth

Scott Kazmir
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Scott Kazmir went winless with a 6.52 ERA in six September starts. He allowed 41 hits, eight of them homers, in 29 innings, posting an 18/11 K/BB ratio. When the Astros got five innings of two-run ball from him Friday against the Royals, they should have thanked their good fortune and moved right along to the pen.

And they knew this. They must have. Josh Fields got up in the pen after Kazmir issued a one-out walk in the fifth. The left-hander got out of the frame, making himself eligible for the victory in what was then a 4-2 game, but it was still very surprising to see him come back out for the sixth, particularly with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist (.926 OPS against lefties) and right-handed Lorenzo Cain due up.

Kazmir retired Zobrist, but he gave up a double to Cain. He was then pulled, even with the left-handed Eric Hosmer coming up. Manager A.J. Hinch had committed my biggest baseball pet peeve: he sent his starter back to the mound with the idea of pulling him after his first mistake.

It worked out terribly. Oliver Perez gave up a pair of soft hits to Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before walking Mike Moustakas. Fields then entered and walked the unwalkable Salvador Perez to tie the game at 4. The Astros gave up another run in the seventh and lost the game 5-4.

Maybe that’s the way it would have worked out anyway. Kazmir did give up just the one baserunner. It might not have even harmed the Astros if Perez had better luck.

Still, the thinking that went into the decision was disturbing. It’s always better to bring that reliever in with no one on base when you can. That’s especially the case with this Astros pen, which lacks a double-play specialist, much less a Wade Davis. But anyone in that pen would have been a better choice than sending Kazmir out to face Zobrist and Cain for a third time. Hinch needs to be more aggressive going forward.

Cardinals’ giveaway incorrectly claims ownership of 2001 division title

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The Cardinals have won so many division titles, it’s tough to keep track of them all. At least, it would be tough if it weren’t for Baseball Reference.

40,000 rally towels were given away to fans at Busch Stadium ahead of Friday’s NLDS Game 1 against the Cubs. The towel listed all of the years the Cardinals won the NL Central… and 2001. That year, they tied with the Astros for the best record in the National League at 93-69. However, because the Astros won the season series 9-7, they were awarded first place and the Cardinals took the Wild Card.